Walk through Goa’s temple district and soak in a culture that weaves in legends, myths and historical facts just in an easily as the temple florist weaves springs of jasmines, frangipani flowers and abolims into ritualistic offerings for the gods.

Begin this tour at Nagesh Temple, Mhardol, a soothing balm for both eye and mind. It is probably the only Hindu temple in Goa that remained unaffected by the religious persecution of the 16th and 17th centuries and sports a gallery of breathtaking woodcarvings depicting scenes from Hindu epics. Legend has it that a cowherd noticed that one of his c cows sprinkled a particular spot with her milk everyday. On examining the spot, he discovered a shivalinga and believed it was swayambhu (self-generated). Another legend recounts how a Brahmin was believed to have seen a cow jump into a river at a particular spot everyday and submerge herself. On diving himself, the Brahmin is said to have found the Nagesh Maharudra linga. Perhaps on account of this legend, the temple tank at Nagesh (Nagzar) is considered the most sacred of all temple tanks in Goa. Look for the stone slab inscribed in Marathi and dated 1413 that refers to a donation made to the temple by one Mayeen Shenvi Wagle, an officer of the kingdom during the reign of Veer Pratap Devaraya of the Vijayanagar Empire. The donation was in the form of paddy fields and houses! Apparently, the donor was also known as Nagnath, nath being a popular suffix in 12th century Goa.

That the temple dates backs to Kadamba rule is proven from a copper plate that describes the settlement of a dispute between a goldsmiths’ guild and a group of vaishyas (merchants) in the year 1221 Saka (Hindu calendar) or 1299 A.D. Unfortunately, the copper plate is not on display at the sire.

What is interesting is that an earlier inscription dates this temple to the 1099 A.D. and stone relics found on the site date the temple to the 8th century. The most recent intervention was done by one Sri Wadiya from Kumbarajuvem who rebuilt the temple in 1780 on behalf of two widows from the family of one Fonde Kamat Kumbarjuvekar. The temple has several myths and legends associated with it and these are often referred to in Konkani folk music. The only cultural link between folk worships and contemporary Hindu ritual, this monument stands like a jewel in the crown of the temples of Goa.

It is often conjectured that the name of the temple comes from the Indian word nag for cobra but it is doubtful if the name Nagnath, Nagesh or Nagzar has anything to do with the snake that is revered all over India. Look for the stone image of a king cobra at the foot of a pipal tree (ficus religiosa) towards the right as you face the temple. The deepmala or lamp tower also sports a sculpted band of king cobras but these are all recent additions perhaps based on ancient sculptures found at the site. One must remember that the ancient Aryans had a profound respect for the snake. Lord Vishnu in his Shesh Vishnu form lies on a bed of snakes. Lord Ganesha has a cobra girdling his generous waist and a king cobra adorns the dread locks of Lord Shiva. Besides the cobra is mythically supposed to guard family’s wealth and reputation so having their stone images around one of Goa’s wealthiest temples was seen as a symbol of security.

Real treasures, however, await you if you go on towards the other temples in this district. You can either go northwards towards the Ramnathi Temple or eastwards towards the temple decided the goddess Shantadurga. If you decide to go to Ramnathi, prepare yourself for a pleasant surprise. It is spotlessly clean, airy and filled with bright sunshine. One of the most interesting aspects of the Hindu temples of Ponda is that all of them seem to have been located at vantage points in the landscape, have expansive grounds, beautiful water tanks and own large commercial coconut and betel nut plantations. Given the fact that these deities were brought in the dead of night from Salcete in the South of Got in an extremely harsh political climate it does seem rather curious that the first impression they give any visitor is one of material rather than spiritual wealth.

Take the temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, popularly called the Ramnathi Temple in Kavlem. Surrounded by Vegetable plots, belel nut, coconut plantations and fruit orchards, this temple makes more then a statement of mere sustenance. It has its own water source and although it welcomes donations from devotees, it does not depend on these for its survival. The temple itself is a symbol of defiance against the erstwhile Portuguese regime. Legend has it that Ramnath, a Gaud Saraswat Brahmin and a resident of Loutolim village in Salcete, was so upset with the destruction of the original in the Vargaon ward of his village that he filed a case against the Portuguese Governor-General. These were hard times for Goans in Goa. Any opposition to the state was dealt with severely. Yet, not only did the Brahmin have the courage to protest, he also refused to accept an offer from the Governor-General to rebuild the temple. He insisted, instead, that the Governor-General be recalled to Portugal for wounding the sensibilities of the local population!